What If the Nevada Commission Hadn’t Blocked a Munguia-Golovkin Fight in 2018?

Boxing Scene

Good news, everyone. Saul “Canelo” Alvarez is taking on Jaime Munguia this weekend, and the Nevada State Athletic Commission has approved the bout. They’re not going to stand in the way of Munguia taking a major leap up in class and testing himself against one of the best fighters in the world for a career-best payday.

There’s no reason to think they would stand in the way, of course.

Except, well, they’ve done it once before.

In 2018, after Alvarez failed a drug test and Nevada suspended him, forcing him to pull out of his planned May 5 rematch with Gennady Golovkin, “GGG’s” team chose Munguia as the replacement opponent. Terms were agreed to and everything. And the NSAC refused to allow it. 

It wasn’t unreasonable at the time for Bob Bennett and the rest of the commission to have concerns that the fight would be a mismatch. Golovkin was in the top five on pound-for-pound lists, had a record of 37-0-1, had just fought to a draw against Canelo that many felt should have been a win, had been reigning as a middleweight titlist for some seven years, and was still close to his prime at age 36. Munguia was just 21, and despite a sterling 28-0 record, had fought nobody of note and had mostly been fighting one weight class below GGG, at junior middleweight.

It seemed, on paper, a fight with a clear delineation between favorite and underdog.

But there’s a big difference between “having concerns” and “blocking the fight.” The same commission that, the prior August, sanctioned a match between arguably the best pound-for-pound boxer on the planet, Floyd Mayweather, and an opponent making his pro boxing debut, Conor McGregor, drew a line at Golovkin vs. Munguia.

It was bizarre then. It remains bizarre now.

But with Munguia days away from a career-high payday and a co-starring role in the annual Cinco de Mayo Canelo pay-per-view extravaganza, the NSAC’s interjection now stands as a “what if?” for the ages.

What if they’d let Munguia challenge Golovkin? Would the young Mexican have this multi-million-dollar opportunity he has now?

Had Golovkin vs. Munguia happened in May 2018, the possible outcomes fall into three main buckets: GGG destroys the kid, GGG wins competitively, or Munguia pulls the massive upset.

Before exploring the three possible butterfly effects, I figured I’d reach out to an elite boxing trainer for perspective on which of the three scenarios would have been most likely.

“I wouldn’t have picked Munguia to win, but I think he would have had a reasonable chance to compete,” said Stephen “Breadman” Edwards, noted trainer out of Philadelphia and a contributor here at BoxingScene. “His youth and his volume would have presented some problems for GGG. But, GGG in 2018, his jab and his know-how would have been a little bit too much for Jaime at that time, in my opinion, especially considering how much trouble Jaime had with Dennis Hogan shortly after he won the title. I wouldn’t have expected him to beat GGG back then.

“But listen, that’s not how boxing works. You have to fight in the ring, and he was more than capable of being a competitive opponent at the time. It was almost like the commission was saying, ‘If he can’t win, we’re not going to allow him to be in the fight.’ I’ve never seen the commission do that. I didn’t know that you had to be able to win a fight in order to be in it. And more importantly, that’s why the fights are fought. Just because he would have been an underdog, that doesn’t mean that he couldn’t have been competitive in the fight.”

So Breadman is picking Door Number 2. Let’s explore that first, because it probably has the least impact on Munguia’s chances of fighting Alvarez in 2024.

Sure, the younger man doesn’t have a zero on the end of his record anymore in this scenario, making him arguably some modest percentage less marketable as a pay-per-view B-side. But if he loses competitively to GGG in May 2018, he neither becomes a superstar overnight nor gets written off. Maybe he still gets a crack at Sadam Ali, still wipes him out, still claims an alphabet belt, still climbs the weight scale at the same rate, and is still the May 2024 option for Canelo that seems far less risky than David Benavidez but far more viable than Edgar Berlanga.

What about the first path: Golovkin goes through Munguia like a butcher’s knife through GGG’s favorite food, meat? In other words, what if it looks like the unfortunate mismatch Golovkin instead was approved for (by the California commission) on May 5, 2018, his two-round wipeout of Vanes Martirosyan?

What played out in real life over the last six years was Munguia, who was still rather raw in 2018, slowly learning on the job, getting protected at times, and being matched like a prospect-turned-titleholder with eventual multi-million-dollar potential. That probably wouldn’t have happened if he’d been splattered by Golovkin. While one loss at age 21 in a massive step up against a future Hall of Famer shouldn’t be the end of the world, in Munguia’s case, it would likely have meant the end of his team steering him in a carefully calculated manner. Maybe he never hooks up with Erik Morales or Freddie Roach.

Certainly, it’s a long and unlikely road from having a lopsided loss to Golovkin on your record to being deemed a PPV-headlining opponent for Canelo, even six years later.

Then there’s the scenario that sees Munguia topple Golovkin. Never mind whether it was actually possible at the time; we’re playing with hypotheticals here.

And this is the one that changes boxing history in a variety of ways. For starters, there’s not much chance of Canelo-GGG II in September 2018. Maybe we never get a second or third fight between those two.

The more pressing question, as it pertains to the focus of this article, is what Munguia does after handing Golovkin his first defeat. He could have an immediate rematch. Or perhaps he could get the call to go straight from upsetting GGG to challenging Canelo that September.

There are ifs upon ifs upon unlikely ifs here, but if the Nevada commission doesn’t block GGG-Munguia, maybe we don’t get Canelo-Munguia in 2024 because we already saw it in 2018.

In one of these three scenarios, Munguia has the NSAC’s overreach to thank for allowing him to make that Canelo money years later. In the other two scenarios, he has every chance of making it anyway and perhaps making it a whole lot sooner.

It’s still somewhat mind-blowing how close we came this year to Alvarez vs. Berlanga in Las Vegas, which is basically Golovkin vs. Munguia redux from a “the young, unproven guy may be woefully unprepared” perspective. Given what Munguia showed on May 12, 2018, when he KO’d Ali in four rounds, I’m inclined to say Alvarez-Berlanga in 2024 looks more worthy of commission intervention than Golovkin-Munguia did in 2018. (Though that doesn’t mean any commission should be standing in the way of either fight at either time if the fighters, managers, and promoters all want to make the matches.)

But Canelo vs. Berlanga isn’t the only present-day parallel that fits. Canelo vs. Diego Pacheco would be comparable to Golovkin-Munguia. So would Gervonta Davis vs. Floyd Schofield. Or Katie Taylor vs. Caroline Dubois.

There are countless fights from the past that took place and echoed Golovkin-Munguia on paper. Maybe Leon Spinks shouldn’t have been allowed a crack at Muhammad Ali in 1978. Or someone should have blocked Salvador Sanchez vs. Azumah Nelson.

The list goes on and on — with a “what if” attached to every one of them as to how boxing history is altered if a commission decides not to let some unproven young guy take a shot.

In 2024, Jaime Munguia isn’t so young anymore and isn’t so unproven anymore. He’s still taking a giant leap up in class Saturday, against, by a wide margin, the best boxer he’s ever faced.

No more what ifs. No more dealing in hypotheticals. Just opportunity knocking again, six years later, and Munguia getting a chance to knock back.

Eric Raskin is a veteran boxing journalist with more 25 years of experience covering the sport for such outlets as BoxingScene, ESPN, Grantland, Playboy, Ringside Seat, and The Ring (where he served as managing editor for seven years). He also co-hosted The HBO Boxing Podcast, Showtime Boxing with Raskin & Mulvaney, and Ring Theory and currently co-hosts The Interim Champion Boxing Podcast with Raskin & Mulvaney. He has won three first-place writing awards from the BWAA, for his work with The Ring, Grantland, and HBO. Outside boxing, he is the senior editor of CasinoReports and the author of 2014’s The Moneymaker Effect. He can be reached on X or LinkedIn, or via email at [email protected].

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